I Am Legend's Brooklyn Bridge Scene Was A Multi-Million Dollar Pain To Shoot

Never underestimate the power of the movie flashback. In the case of 2007's "I Am Legend," a key flashback sequence was one of the most expensive in the entire film. That's saying something for a movie that takes place in a desolate, post-apocalyptic New York City. 

Based on the 1954 novel of the same name by Richard Matheson and the 1971 cinematic reimagining "The Omega Man," the Will Smith horror/action movie from director Francis Lawrence was filmed over several months in various locations in Manhattan. But there was one specific scene that producers easily considered the most complex of the entire production. The film largely takes place in 2012, but it was the flashback sequences set in 2009 that were so intense that CBS News reported that local residents had to be warned to avoid a panic. 

An evacuation of Manhattan Island at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge demanded far more than your typical film shoot, at a cost of several million dollars.

The scene required 1,000 extras

When a modified virus meant to cure cancer mutates, it turns all of New York into blood-sucking vampire-like creatures. Just one immune person, military virologist Robert Neville (Smith), is seemingly all that remains of the city. The terrifying early moments when the virus begins to mutate are revealed to us in a series of flashbacks.

In the first flashback, we learn that New York City is being quarantined, and Neville rushes through traffic to get his family out of the city. We also meet the German Shepherd puppy Sam, who will become Neville's lone confidant in the apocalyptic new world. But it's the subsequent flashbacks, when they reach the Brooklyn Bridge, where things escalate.

As the Nevilles near the evacuation point, the camera swoops up to reveal the Brooklyn Bridge as we've never seen it before. It is a frightening scene as droves of people surge toward New York's East River in hopes of escaping the island before a mandatory quarantine begins. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the scene called for 1,000 extras, 160 National Guard members, and a 250-person production team.

And that didn't even account for preparing the bridge itself.

'There were so many moving parts'

The six-night production required a small fleet of Coast Guard ships, several armored vehicles, two helicopters, and the cooperation of 14 government agencies. They also fashioned a construction barge to look like a pier. The entire cost of the scene came in at around $5 million, 3% of the entire budget. Production Manager Paul Kramer said:

"The physical scale of the Brooklyn Bridge scene was the most daunting. There were so many moving parts. Just finding out who you needed the permits from and who needs to sign off was a job."

The production team spent weeks lighting the Brooklyn Bridge to make it fully illuminated. This involved hanging lights from catwalks, positioning lights from both shores, and focusing powerful 2,500 lb. electric lamps (known in Hollywood as Klieg lights).

And then there were the safety concerns. Precautions included NYPD divers and eight officers, helicopter landing tests, sound tests, fire department trucks on shore, and the Coast Guard assurance that maritime operations were not interrupted.

At the time, the New York Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting called "I am Legend" the biggest project ever to be filmed in New York City. The film's run time is 101 minutes. The impressive bridge scene runs just under four minutes. Thankfully, the "I am Legend" crew never underestimated the power of the flashback, and spared no expense to create a sequence worthy of a legendary New York location.